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So now’s your chance to ask. As Maren’s introduction suggests, her areas of expertise are varied, and she’s truly eager to help. Leave a question in the comments section, along with your website if you have one, and he’ll respond asap, also in the comments, so others can benefit from the good advice.
I founded Redeye in 2005 as a photo agency that supports photographers with both fine-art and commercial careers. I have always believed a photographer benefits from a multifaceted career, and I am interested in inspired work of any kind. Redeye currently represents six photographers, each with their own distinct photographic voice.
Before starting Redeye, I was a photo editor at Dwell and Mother Jones magazines, and consulted at various publications including Big, Chow, and GOOD magazines. I have also consulted with design firms and emerging photographers.
I love to edit and match up a photographer with their perfect job, path, or next project. Feel free to ask me anything and, if I don’t know the answer, I will make up something really good.
Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.
Miki Johnson: How and when did you transition to commercial work after leaving your staff position?
Nader Khouri: Immediately after leaving the Contra Costa Times a year-and-a-half ago, I knew that I was going to be doing commercial work. I am shooting mostly food right now and many of my clients are branding firms and restaurants. I would love to be shooting food-related subject matter most of the time, but I am still building my business. I am also doing corporate/nonprofit work and am very thankful to some of my photographer friends in the Bay Area for giving me referrals during this transition. For me, this change isn’t happening overnight, and I don’t expect it to.
MJ: How did you present yourself to commercial clients? Were they drawn to your photojournalistic background?
NK: Most of my food clients have come from doing a lot of networking. I got to a point where I said to myself, “I’m sick of hanging around photographers.” So I got as far away from them as possible and started meeting people who I could potentially collaborate with. I had discussions with them about photography and gained their trust. My website was just a confirmation for them. I’ve gotten to the point now where I’m back in the loop of being around photographers. I became a member of APA and am using a lot of their resources. Also, I have done a ton of email marketing and I have to say, even in this day in age of Twitter, Facebook, and Adbase, seeing someone-face to-face is still number one for me.
MJ: Did you work with a consultant or rep to re-brand and find commercial clients?
NK: I studied marketing and it helped me go back and ask myself, “What am I passionate about?” and then set goals for myself. It also helped me focus on how could best serve my clients. I started hearing the word “partnership” more, and that helped me think more about how I can reach out to other professionals to meet my clients’ needs. Photojournalism and commercial work are both collaborative processes. Commercial work just has a whole host of different players. And I think that’s where photographers might end up getting discouraged.
During a transition, photographers need to take the time to understand the scope of the markets they are in and to identify growing markets. I constantly say to myself, “Even in this down economy, plenty of work is being done and plenty of money is being made.” Instead of learning video like many still photographers, I am spending my time researching my markets and making connections there. I think spending time on the content of my images is more valuable than the medium in which I shoot. If I have a client who wants motion, then I’ll hire someone to do motion. But I am still quite passionate about still images and don’t plan to change what I do anytime in the near future.
MJ: I notice that you have a strong “mission and values” section on your website. Has that helped you focus in on the kinds of jobs you want? More »
Miki Johnson: So tell me what you’ve been working on now.
Sol Neelman: I’ve been working on a long-term project, photographing weird sports and the culture of sports around the world. Recently, I photographed dog surfing in San Diego, pro wrestling in Mexico, the Lumberjack World Champs in Wisconsin, and bike polo in Seattle. Up next is a prison rodeo in Oklahoma.
I try to keep myself busy with fun sporting events. It’s an excuse to travel, which is one of my addictions. Along the way I’ll do some traditional sports, such as The Beijing Olympics and college football. I just went to my first Cubs game at Wrigley and photographed the fans in the bleachers. That was fun.
My goal is to get this work published in a book. Ideally it would encompass everything in sports – not just weird sports. It doesn’t need to be the Redneck Games to be good. But the Redneck Games were pretty good.
As far as work, last year I did a commission piece for a developer for whom I photographed downtown Portland for a year. They hung my photographs in the lobby and on each floor of their new building, which ironically is located right across the street from The Oregonian. I’ve also been doing work for Nike and a local bank, plus some weddings. Things are kind of hit or miss, so I try to stay busy with my own project to fill the time.
I’m still trying to figure out how to expose myself to more advertising firms. I recently signed up with Adbase and plan to contact firms that seem like a good fit. At the same time, I’m really trying hard to steer away from editorial clients, just because their rates are so low.
Today we went to the Bayelsa Palm Oil Farm, which everyone has been talking about in the interviews. Sure enough, the new processing plant is not completed (they are waiting for the Malaysians to come and build it). I shot the exterior of the new factory, which is not impressive, and made arrangements to return tomorrow and shoot the workers cutting palms off the trees.
I was thinking today how I always work from the outside, not just as an observer but also in terms of access and logistics. I am the outsider that most people don’t want around or they don’t want me to see what I want to look at. Yet in this project I should be an insider and in many situations I am treated that way. But mostly I feel like I’m working from the outside, trying to get a glimpse through the window shades at the action.
I had a meeting about going to Akassa, a far off community by the Atlantic, to see civil society projects in action. After talking with my contacts about the security situation in the creeks, it became crystal clear I shouldn’t risk it.
Things were bad in 2006, when boats of gun-weilding young men would appear from nowhere, stop you, harass you, and take money. Now the situation has deteriorated to gang warfare for turf and control, but instead of mean streets they are creepy riverways and creeks. Plus, it’s so rare to see a white man in the creeks now, if I were to be seen by one of these boatloads of young men, I would be way too exposed and vulnerable. I can’t deal with this shit or take the risk, especially for this project. I said the only way I would go to Akassa or any of these riverside communities is by chopper or government boat.
We started the day at a local market to get B-roll of fish and periwinkles in buckets. It was a relaxed and lovely way to start the day, although I did get splattered by blood when I got too close to a saleswoman chopping a fish for her customer. We then went to the Bayelsa Palm Oil Farm, which is still a work in progress. The plantation itself is visually lovely, but the processor is not working yet, as I pointed out a couple of days ago, waiting for the Malaysians.
I was quite testy with Sokari and the subjects today. I realized that I am now in a mode where everything I’m seeing is through critical eyes and negative assumptions. Unfortunately it’s accurate, but not healthy or fair or positive…but then, who cares? I can be this way if I want and if it gives me the resolve to carry on. It was sunny this morning, which means dripping wet working from the heat and humidity.
Upon emerging to greet the afternoon, I met a calm, overcast day with nice winds that cooled the heat down. We went to cover a traditional wedding, which required a very short boat ride across the river from Yenagoa. It was another undeveloped and poor village, like all the rest of them here. The bride had to wait for the stylist to appear and make her up. Once she arrived things proceeded swiftly.
My back was burning with pain at this point and the sun came out, so it was also burning hot again. I was losing my ability to tune into the sequence of events and Sokari was keen for me to see the part where the groom has to choose between three covered women, not knowing which one is his bride. It was loud, colorful and hectic. I probably got some great stuff, but all I could think about was my discomfort, the hectic, screeching sounds and the chaos of the situation.
I woke on this last Monday in the Delta bleary eyed and tired from another restless night of sleep. Some brisk Nescafe and exercise brought me back to life with a positive attitude to finish this thing strong. We first went back to the Palm Oil farm to finally film the harvesters cutting the palms down, but once again the workers were arguing with the contractors about getting paid. No go on that front, but did get the pruners whacking at the palm trees.
We then drove out of Yenagoa (yay!) to look at a couple of projects. On the way we stopped to shoot road work on the New Airport Road, a huge swath of light colored orange sand covering a wide area of flattened jungle. I got out of the car and started to shoot the one bulldozer working in the distance — not knowing that a JTF post was on the other side of the road.
Immediately they started yelling, “Oyibo, who gave you permission to snap!” I snapped back without hesitation, “THE GOVERNOR!!!” Sometimes my frustration builds up so much I forget to consider my responses. The soldiers were taken aback and before they could say anything else I pulled out the well-worn letter that Von’s office gave us at the beginning of the trip. I’ve used about 15 times so far and it usually works. They took the letter and said, “We’ll keep this…it’s for us!” I said, “No you won’t, that’s my only copy!” Thinking ahead, I then said, “We are going to Kayama next, so we’ll get you a copy and drop it off on the way back to Yenagoa.” He said, “No, you will take this engineer with you!” I said “Fine!”
So off we went to Kayama, about 15 miles ahead on this main road that connects Port Harcout to Warri. Along the way, the engineer suggested we go to another place where they are dredging sand for the road and we finally got some dredging footage. We then went to Kayama to show a huge land reclamation and erosion protection project. We got the copy and dropped it and the engineer off on the way back to Yenagoa.
I asked Sokari if I had come on too strong to the soldier and he laughed and said, “No!” He told me that after I said, “THE GOVERNOR!” another soldier said to the big soldier who confronted me, “Wow, he’s confident.“ So my bravado worked in this case. Not that I was aware of what I was doing. I’m in a trance-like state at this point, trying to accomplish the work, keep positive, and get back to my room to chill out, waiting to get out of here.
Yenagoa….this is the capital city of the federal state of Bayelsa, which is only 12 years old. They have put me up in the bosom of the state, the Government House, a large compound for hosting guests and dignitaries. I have not been put in the VIP building. The furniture is broken, many of the lights don’t work, the TV is useless, there is no internet, the bed is a piece of foam on a piece of plywood, and it’s not clean. On the bright side, there is electricity, a functioning air conditioner and some lights. I have to focus on what I do have, not what I don’t, otherwise I’d go downhill fast.
This is so typical of Nigeria. I am in a grand compound, with a sense of decrepit grandeur on the surface. Yet inside so much is broken, unfinished or just done poorly. The irony is, being hosted by the government I have less than I would in one of the privately owned guest hotels in the town.
I went out in the afternoon with an engineer from the Dept. of Works to shoot road building. We went to a location where there was a giant Shell gas pipeline project about 30 yards away. I started to shoot innocuous activity: workers hanging out along the pipes, big machinery working in the muck of the swamps. All of a sudden, five Nigerian Shell workers in bright orange jump suits and hardhats start yelling and motioning me to come. I realized immediately I was in for it. Even though I had an official from the State Government and was not a journalist, they freaked and did the threatening, aggressive, and aggrieved trip on me. I didn’t get permission, etc, etc. Then they said I could not leave without erasing the tape.
Anytime this happens I get pissed and push back, which I did. I could see it was getting uglier and the fact I had a state official with me didn’t matter squat to them, so I called Von Kemedi, my main contact in the Delta since 1994. He threatened to send the MOPOLS, mobile police, to arrest them, and they let us go with further admonishment. What was upsetting and revealing was, when I said I was working for the State of Bayelsa, they said, “This isn’t the state of Bayelsa!” Shell owns the game down here and doesn’t have to answer to anyone.
Hitting a wall today of fatigue and burnout. So many appointments are changed or canceled last minute, Von continues to delay certain actions, Patterson Ogon (one of his deputies) is MIA, and I have to push everyone to get anything done. At least my core team is in place and seemingly responsible and loyal. If my assistant/videographer Sokari or my driver stop being responsible, I’ll truly lose it.
We started the day at a market by the river, next to a big new bridge. Then we went with a water commission official to a small village to show how potable water is brought to their community. It was raining the whole time, so I don’t know how the footage will look. Then we went back to the water commission HQ and did an interview with another Minister, of Agriculture. Then I hit the wall. I’ve been doing so good for the past days, but today something snapped. I have to get the rhythm back. I have no choice.
After our interview, we went to the Health Ministry to get details about an upcoming polio vaccine exercise, which is starting in a couple of days. We went to three offices, spoke to four different people, then went to a place where the vaccines are stored a few blocks away and spoke to someone there. He gave us a cell number and when Sokari called he basically was told we needed to come in and speak to this man. I hit a wall of frustration and lashed out at Sokari. I felt terrible afterwards and apologized a few times in the course of the day. I just get so frustrated with the hapless and clueless way so many people here work and think.
It was a whirlwind day with the Governor. First we started at the Govenment House Church, which is literally 100 yards from where I’m staying in the Government House compound. It’s incredible to think that this is exactly where that military helicopter dropped Elias (my fixer) and I off in June of 2006, handcuffed, after we were taken from the flow station out in Nembe creek. How life plays it’s tricks.
We finally got to Amassoma, which is almost an hour away on a mostly very rough road. We filmed the war canoe contest and got some good stuff, probably, although I was fried from all the pressures of the day and this trip. I realize I cannot control everything and, here, almost nothing, but sometimes it just becomes too much.
Planning thoroughly and planning well are key to a large-scale assignment. However, staying flexible and being willing to throw out the plan at a moments notice is equally important. If you are prepared for both, there is a good chance your trip will be successful.
Traveling in rural China is not the best place to have a specific plan. Like most of us, I live in a large city where I am used to trains turning up on time, buses criss-crossing the city at all times of the day, and convenience at my fingertips almost everywhere. As soon as you step out of China’s major cities, a lot of this evaporates.
In my plan, I had penciled in one week for each location. As far as details — timing, when to arrive, when to leave, etc. — my notebook held no more information than, for example, “Week 1 – Inner Mongolia.” I knew exactly I where I wanted to go and what I wanted to achieve there, but it was impossible for me to predict how and when I would arrive and leave a certain place. In this respect, I had to remain completely flexible and not become frustrated if I could not get to a location on ‘x’ day, as ‘y’ day would probably be ok, too. This was a luxury I had working for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which afforded me much more time than most assignments.
Adapting to change was the only constant on my trip. Mid-way through our journey, my assistant had to unexpectedly return to Beijing, forcing me to work alone for a small portion of the trip. I had anticipated something like this, so I focused on subjects I could cover without an assistant.
The biggest challenge during my Pulitzer assignment was when my “chapter” on abandoned cities appeared to have fallen through. I had researched and planned a trip to a spectacular abandoned city in the Inner Mongolian deserts. The day before embarking, we discovered that the area had just been shut off to outsiders because the route to the city passed through one of China’s space rocket launch centers. I had no other back-up location for abandoned cities, so I was concerned that this important chapter would be missed.
As we called hotels to book rooms for our future stops, we mentioned our predicament to a hotelier. This hotelier happened to be a professional guide to explorers and told us of another abandoned city rarely visited by outsiders. A quick search online revealed that the demise of the city fell inline with desertification, so we decided it was our final (and only) option. The old city of Yinpan turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole trip, despite coming about completely by chance.
The problem with this whole blog thing is that lots of great stories get pushed off the page every day and ends up in our growing archives. If you haven’t checked out the categories along the left side of RESOLVE, we think it will be worth your time.
We also know that sometimes you just want to click and not wander, so we’re going to pick some gems from our past posts and throw them back up for your enjoyment every week or so — starting today. This one is the first of several posts from Jasmine DeFoore at Redux Pictures about getting editorial representation and getting the most out of it. Click below to read the original story; her later posts are linked in the intro.
There’s nothing more ego shattering than interviewing a photographer who is as old as my career is long and finding out that she has kicked my ass in a market place that I coveted for years. Shooting book covers for literary works is downright respectable in a bizarre, pseudo-erudite sort of way.
“Did you read Rolling’s Recalcitrant Ruminations of Ruskin?”
“Why no darling, but I did shoot the image for the cover of the hardback.”
“Oh, bravo. Glass of sherry?”
I tried to get into that publishing circle for years. To say that they didn’t give two shits about me is, to be honest, crediting myself with one shit too many. Which brings me to my guest, photographer Claire Rosen. She was recently contacted by the boutique global publishing firm Random House to shoot the cover (left) of Sarah Addison Allen’s book The Girl who Chased the Moon.
The folks at Random House were intrigued by Miss Rosen’s distinct style of photography when they came across it at one of her gallery openings. The assignment (I’m not joking): Read the book and pitch some ideas of how the cover should be shot. The folks at Random House chose one of the ideas and Claire was, (I promise, I’m not joking), free to go shoot it and send in the results.
That kind of paid creative freedom with a high-profile client is practically nonexistent in contemporary society. Not only do you get paid to do your creative thing, you can window shop at a Barnes and Noble on a date and feign surprise when you see your book cover. If I want to accidentally-on-purpose show off my book cover I have to start a fire in the café of the book store, convince my date that it’s safest in the photography section and then use my book to fan away the smoke. “You okay? Hey look at that!”
Gigs like Miss Rosen’s can become a wonderful source of work. In just a week since receiving her first assignment, she has landed another book cover. If you’re interested in doing this type of work, you need to keep one thing in mind: The people at publishing houses who are green-lighting covers aren’t looking for photographers. They are looking for covers.
I reached out to a senior art director at Little, Brown Books to find out what he’s looking for from photographers. He suggests going to the bookstore to find covers, illustrated or photographic, that are similar to your narrative style. Check the imprint names on the books’ spines and contact those publishers to get the name of their art director.
The best way to reach out art directors is by mailing a hard-copy promo with an example of your work. Email promos have become the bane of art directors, my contact said. The barrage of email promos from listing services has resulted in a backlash, and they are routinely deleted out of hand.
One phrase that stood out in my interview with the Little, Brown art director was “cover appropriate.” Take the time to do your research. If your work doesn’t look like any cover you’ve seen, then don’t send it to the publishers.
With all that in mind, take a day and hang out at the bookstore — you could find a whole new direction for your photography business. Just please pretend not to notice if you see a guy in the café torching a pile of coffee beans.